Stupid African President 1 and 2 make explicit the critical nature of Barthélémy Toguo’s political stance, expressed in terms at once theatrical and steeped in a sense of the absurd. The first photograph shows a smartly attired Toguo standing before a map of colonial Africa, as if addressing some topic of serious continental relevance. The possibility of taking this image as a straightforward representation of African leadership is undermined not only by the title, but by its pendant image, Stupid African President 2, in which the artist wears a rumpled white worksuit and balances a chainsaw ludicrously on his head.
Parodying the African practice of carrying goods and containers artfully on one’s head, Stupid African President 2 also points ironically to the decisive role that portable chainsaws have played in razing forests across the continent. Light, cheap, and plentiful, chainsaws have enabled levels of deforestation unseen before their arrival; they are suited ideally to roadless tropical forest regions that heavy equipment and logging trucks cannot navigate. Toguo’s deadpan, ambiguous expression and passive pose, and the noose-like electrical cord entangling him, all lend a sinister mood, as if this “stupid African president” has gotten in over his head, caught up in something he neither understands nor controls.
From the exhibition: Environment and Object
Recent African Art (February 5 – July 31, 2011)